HBCUs Get Google’s Attention For Mentor Program

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Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 11, 2016 at 7:49 am
HBCUs Get Google’s Attention For Mentor Program

Everyone knows the technology sector has a diversity problem. By any measure, it’s an insular bunch, despite years of promises to change. Intel recently decided to be transparent with its hiring statistics in an attempt to stave off criticism as it tries to improve. Google has been doing more to court women and other underrepresented groups as well.

The latest Google salvo into diversity has to do with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs. In 2015, when African-Americans totaled between 1% and 2% of Google’s employees, the company embedded software engineers at some HBCUs such as Howard University. The goal: to have these mentors teach and advise students, then help them apply for tech positions. Course offerings at the schools have skyrocketed with these Google teachers, and the company also made a number of internship opportunities available.

Now Google is aiming specifically at recruiting at HBCUs. About 35 percent of African-American computer scientists graduate from HBCUs, with only a negligible amount making up the workforce at Google. The company says it recognizes a need for its employees to reflect the population that uses its products, but it will be a long path.

NBC News notes that HBCU students now have a hiring advantage compared with other engineering graduates because of their relationships with Google in Residence teachers. Being able to have personal contact and mentoring helps them understand the Google culture before applying, and have a recommendation that can be helpful.

Google says it has more African American summer interns than ever, thanks to Google in Residence. On-campus teachers at seven HBCUs have done more than focus on their subject area—they also boost networking and professional skills that many students simply don’t have. Another benefit is simply the confidence students gain through GIR interaction. Many report an unwillingness to apply for competitive jobs and internships at tech companies, worried they weren’t qualified. Working with an actual Google employee, on their own college campuses, has changed that.

Apple, Google, Intel, Facebook and dozens of other technology companies have pledged time and money to increasing diversity. The problem isn’t having qualified candidates to hire, as evidenced by plenty of non-white computer science and engineering graduates all over the country. A cultural shift will be needed where all employees can feel comfortable in very specific enclaves.

Jokes about millennials and casual dress or the playful atmosphere at such companies are one thing, but many young people of color simply don’t feel welcome. Hiring and mentoring initiatives are great but insufficient to change the long term picture of the tech industry. Companies that are successful will have an advantage in developing products and services for the diverse experiences of all kinds of Americans.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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